Interview

ICYMI: Kristina Wagner Interview

Kristina

Credit: JPI

Though It Hasn’t Always Been A Fairy Tale, Kristina Wagner Is Grateful For Her 35-Year Journey With GH.

Thirty-five years ago this week, on September 7, 1984, GH audiences were introduced to spirited Aztec princess Felicia Cummings, who would go on to become one of the show’s most popular heroines. Her debut not only changed the course of Port Charles history, but had an enormous, almost incalculable impact on her portrayer, Kristina Wagner (Kristina Malandro at the time), who was only 22 years old when she was plucked out of college in Indiana to take on the role.

“Absolutely, profoundly life-changing,” is how Wagner describes her sudden soap stardom. “Everything changes. Even the way your own personal family views you, the way you’re received, and the way you move about your day-to-day life.” Her perspective on her celebrity — and on her fans — has changed over the years. “It used to be terrifying for me to meet somebody who was so enthralled with this person that you portray on TV. It used to be so frightening for me. And now I have nothing but gratitude, love, appreciation, respect.”

Both on screen and off, the actress’s early years on the show were defined largely by Felicia’s storybook romance with Frisco, played by Jack Wagner. The characters married in 1986 and 1990; their portrayers followed suit in 1993, but divorced 13 years later. In recent years, Wagner’s relationship to the Frisco/Felicia phenomenon has also undergone a transformation. “When people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you guys inspired me so much and I really fell in love with Frisco and Felicia, they made us feel so good,’ it didn’t really resonate with me,” she explains. “I just couldn’t grasp where they were really coming from; this was my job and I was just kind of showing up for work.”

But early in 2018, she and her ex-husband did a joint personal appearance in New York, and got up close and personal with Frisco and Felicia devotees. “It was such a profound thing,” she says. “I remember flying on the plane back with Jack — and you know, we’re not together, but we’re respectfully loving parents to our sons, and there for each other for them — but our hands were clasped, we were looking at each other and we had tears in our eyes. It meant so much to really hear these stories from people about the inspiration that Frisco and Felicia gave them — hope for romance, having loving connections to the people around you. We just came together as this community. It didn’t feel like fan and star. Who knew that we would have such an impact on so many people’s lives? We just made them feel good. We made them feel safe, made them feel accepted, we gave them the fantasy that they had always dreamed of and they got to go on that ride. I’m so honored beyond belief that I was in that position — with Jack, no less — to go through this journey. It’s an unusual circumstance that I was lucky to have.”

The actress has her own cache of happy memories tied to Frisco and Felicia’s courtship. “It was always sheer pleasure, a joy, and exciting to know that Jack Wagner was on the set and I got to work with him. Always. I can’t say enough about that.” But her work experience was certainly colored by the vicissitudes of their intertwined personal lives, leading her to exit the show in 1991 (he had left some months prior). “My oldest son was eight months old and I was feeling — and I’ll be very honest — in despair. I was alone; Jack and I had split. I was sad, and I was disappointed — oh, my God, I was so disappointed that life wasn’t what I thought it was, life wasn’t that fantasy that everybody else saw, because I got wrapped up into it, too. I didn’t know what had just happened to me in my life in the last couple of years. I was so confused.”

She had no plans to return to GH, but when she show called a few months later to invite her back, she accepted. “I went back and I was able to pull myself up and reinvent and restart myself,” she recalls. “When I came back to the show, it gave me a platform to really start looking at my worth as Felicia, and that’s when all the Mac and Felicia stuff started. I was so ready to be somebody else and not Frisco’s Felicia and I was so grateful that I got to work with John [J. York, Mac]. I think it really unfolded nicely.”

Away from the set, the Wagners reconciled, tied the knot, and had a second child, but called it quits in 2005, precipitating the actress’s next departure from GH. “I left, really, because of my divorce and not knowing what was going to happen to me next. I handled it differently; I went to college. I thought, ‘I’ll get my degree, see where that takes me.’ ”

At that time, GH recast Felicia with Sandra Ferguson, but a few months later, the character was written out; she went to Texas to care for her grandmother, then on off-screen adventures with Frisco. Wagner returned again for a short stint in 2007-08, when Felicia’s younger daughter, Georgie, was murdered, and bore the wrath of her older daughter, Maxie, who accused her of abandonment. “That was one of the saddest things,” Wagner frowns. “It just really made me into a villain and there was no proper explanation for where Felicia was. It’s still fixable,” she points out. “There could be a story that comes up that covers her absence, something really significant — ‘Oh, of course you were gone!’ ”

In 2012, the actress kicked off her current run, when she was asked back by current Executive Producer Frank Valentini and then-Head Writer Ron Carlivati as part of a sea of returns by fan-fave vets in the build to the show’s 50th anniversary in 2013. When that milestone moment did arrive, it included the short-term reprisal of Frisco by Jack Wagner, which she describes as “just downright painful. I think the biggest disappointments, and you can document this, in my career in that show are the death of Georgie and Jack Wagner’s return.” She felt his comeback arc gave short shrift both to Frisco and to the Frisco/Felicia love story (“I think it was just not handled well and I think we have a base audience who would love to have seen that story blossom and be better”), but acknowledges that at the time, “Jack and I were, on a personal level, working through some things. And I have to be honest: I wasn’t completely ready for him, to work with him face to face. I wasn’t in the proper place of my recovery with him — because this has been a long journey, my recovery with our personal relationship. I’m grateful for it today, that it has all worked out the way it has. And if he came back today, oh, my God, we would have so much fun.”

Since she settled back into Port Charles seven years ago, Felicia has been more supporting player than leading lady — and though Wagner wouldn’t turn her nose up at a more significant story, she has no regrets about the long GH break she took. “When I went to college, I was gone for almost six years,” she notes. “I took that chance; I knew, ‘It’s possible this may never be the same again.’ But I was in such a place of desperation to reset my life and it was the best thing I could have done for my own well-being. Having that opportunity to go to school and be enriched with those life experiences, I wouldn’t have done it differently, I have to honestly say. I ended up coming back to GENERAL HOSPITAL, but on a much smaller scale, and I’ve had to learn the acceptance of, ‘Well, it’s not as big as it was. And it may never be that way again and how am I going to accept that?’ ”

For Wagner today, acceptance is a dominant theme. “I’ve learned that acceptance is the key to happiness,” she says. “This is what life does: It takes you on this ride. And every time you have these disappointments or this chaos in your life, it’s like, ‘How are you going to deal with it? How are you going to learn from it? And what is your next adventure after that?’ I’m in that place right now, of trying to find stillness, focusing on betterment, empowerment, and just staying conscious of day-to-day living and finding the joy in it. It’s beautiful. I’m happy that this is what’s happened. This is the best time of my life right now.”

 

Just The Facts 

Birthday: October 30

Hometown: Indianapolis, IN

Connected Four: Wagner was married to former co-star Jack Wagner (ex-Frisco) from 1993-2006. They are parents to sons Peter, born on September 4, 1990, and Harrison, born December 1, 1994. “He has been my greatest teacher, Jack Wagner, and I am eternally grateful for him and that journey that we had together, and that we still have with our children.”

Screen Team: In 2013, Wagner and her brother, Joe Crump, co-directed Children of Internment, an award-winning documentary about German children in U.S. camps during World War II. They are in discussions about a follow-up project. “I’ve got a lot of ideas!”

Animal House: She has one cat, Cora. “I call her Corky Bonkers.”

Single File: Cora was given to her by her ex-fiancé. “I was supposed to get married a year ago Memorial Day. I fell in love with this guy who is in the business, a costumer, really fell in love with him. I had a ring and everything and it didn’t work out. I’m still feeling the profound effect of the disappointment of that.”

Pals Of Mine: “Jackie [Zeman, Bobbie] and Lynn [Herring, Lucy] and Finola [Hughes, Anna] and John York [Mac] are the people I talk to away from the set. We are all invested in each other’s lives because our kids kind of grew up together.”

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